Blog Miscellaneous

To Do lists and Productivity

For years, probably about 12 years now, I have been a big fan of Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. When I read the original book, I was impressed by the idea of getting every thing out of my head and into a space where it could be stored and dealt with appropriately. Between music and research and teaching and training and client work, I tend to have way too much stuff going on any particular time and GTD has been enormously helpful to me in getting that stuff out of my head yet still knowing that it is available and going to be eventually acted upon.
GTD specifies adding two criteria to each task. The first is ‘Project‘ and the second is ‘Context‘.
Project is pretty self-explanatory. Tasks tend to be related to other tasks, and any particular project is probably way too big to be done by a single task. For example, the project of recording an album can be broken down into tasks such as choosing songs, setting up recording dates, recording the music, editing, mixing, mastering, release, and so on. Each of these can be further divided into sub-tasks. In NLP terms, we would refer to this as chunking down. We break up the big project into smaller and smaller tasks and eventually end up with simple actions such as “Email studio to check for available dates” which can be carried out quickly and without stress. So the notion of storing each task in a Project is obviously a useful one.
What was much more revolutionary for me about GTD was the second criterion which is added to each task: Context. Certain tasks can only be carried out in particular places. For example, a task like “tidy up bookshelves in office” can only be carried out when I am physically in the context of my office. And here is where it gets clever… I only need to see the tasks which are doable in the context that I am in at any particular time. Any other task is both undoable and a distraction. Context provides a way to focus all your energy on the stuff that is doable right now.
Naturally, there are lots of computer applications and phone apps to help implement GTD. For about the last 12 years, I have been using a Mac application called Omnifocus. Even in its original version, it was pretty darned good and it helped me to carry out my Phd, several albums, and much more. It got better over the years with syncing between different computers and versions for iPhone and iPad. I got them all and am very grateful to Omni for creating this amazing tool.
Omnifocus hasn’t quite kept up with the times, though. Since 2008, there have strong calls from many users for a web version or a Windows version. Unfortunately, Omni is an extremely Mac-centered company. Within the Apple ecosystem, there is definitely no better solution than Omnifocus. And although I have been an Apple user for over 25 years, nowadays I find the hardware to be overpriced and the software to be over-limiting. For example, an iPhone with similar specs to the Android phone that I bought recently is three times the price. And standard Apple programs like iTunes limit my freedom over my own music and files way too much.
Now I use Mac computers, Window computers, an Android phone, iOS tablets and whatever else happens to be around. Often I find myself doing a lot of work inside a web browser. Omnifocus didn’t cut it, so I’ve turned to another application to handle my GTD task management needs.
Recently, I have started using Todoist and am very impressed so far. The basic version is free. I signed up for the premium one (3,500 yen per year) to have access to labels which are the Todoist version of Context. The program works on more than 15 different platforms including a web interface, iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android. It syncs quickly and accurately between different machines. It has lots of nice functions such as sharing/assigning tasks to other people or adding multiple comments to any task.
It isn’t a perfect implementation of GTD. For example, there doesn’t appear to be a “Start Date” for tasks. That was a nice feature in OmniFocus which hid a task until it was time to start it. I’m sure that Todoist has other limitations, but none have bothered me so far.

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